March 25, 2014
This responds to your inquiry (14-25) asking whether it is ethically permissible for you, the Public Defender, assistant district attorney, various defense attorneys and certain court personnel to dine together approximately three to six times a year to celebrate birthdays.
As the Committee noted in Opinion 11-125, interpersonal relationships are varied, fact-dependent, and unique to the individuals involved. Therefore, the Committee can provide only general guidelines to assist judges who ultimately must determine the nature of their own specific relationships with particular attorneys and their ethical obligations, if any, resulting from those relationships. However, in the Committee’s view, under the circumstances you describe, it is ethically permissible for a judge to dine with attorneys who appear before him/her even if the other participants purchase the celebrant’s meal, including the judge’s, as the Committee has specifically concluded that a judge may accept “ordinary social hospitality” from an acquaintance.
Enclosed, for your convenience, is Opinion 11-125 which addresses this issue.
Very truly yours,
George D. Marlow, Assoc. Justice
Appellate Division, First Dept. (Ret.)